Fleetwood Mac

REVIEW: Fleetwood Mac Deluxe

Fleetwood Mac 1975, Deluxe EditionFLEETWOOD MAC

Fleetwood Mac: Deluxe

Reprise R2 559454 (1 LP/3 CDs/1 DVD). 1975/2018. Fleetwood Mac, prods.; Keith Olsen, prod., eng.; David Devoe, Dan Hersch, others, engs. ADD? TT: 3:27:04

PERFORMANCE **** 1/2

SONICS ****

I’ll never forget the first time I heard this album. I’d been a keen fan of Fleetwood Mac since its early days, and each release was greeted with great expectations. Like a lot of British blues bands of the late 1960s, in the mid-’70s the Mac seemed to struggle toward a difficult career coda; lineups didn’t last, and we even had to endure a completely different band touring under the Fleetwood Mac name.

But from the first joyous moments of Fleetwood Mac, it was clear that this new version of the band was something special. I’d heard and liked the California power pop of Buckingham Nicks, but had no inkling how well that duo could complete an entirely new Fleetwood Mac identity. Hearing Lindsey Buckingham’s “Monday Morning” ring out of my speakers was akin to hearing “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” for the first time. The extraordinary harmonies of Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, and Christine McVie were the sound of angels, as yet another British singer found her true roots in California.

Fleetwood Mac 1975, Deluxe EditionThe shock of how good this record was accumulated as the disc played out and it became clear that the Mac had changed stripes. Always a guitarist’s guitar band with some great songwriting but vocals that were secondary to the overall sound, this Fleetwood Mac was all about the songs and the singing. Buckingham’s inspired guitar work was in support of the whole meal, but was not itself the main course. For the first time, the band featured three outstanding singers and songwriters, who balanced each other fully in all the compositions. The stalwart rhythm section of Christine McVie on keyboards, her husband, John McVie, on bass, and Mick Fleetwood on drums kept the core identity of the band on course.

Perhaps most important, the new lineup brought Christine McVie into focus. By this time, the Mac had long been a guy’s band, with Christine a featured element. Now she was the fulcrum between the old and new lineups, her dusky soprano the anchor between Buckingham’s jolly, effusive tenor and Nicks’s soaring alto. With Buckingham and Nicks as her band partners, McVie, one of the greatest R&B singer-songwriters England has ever produced, upped her writing game. She delivered soulful expressions of sexual emotion in “Say You Love Me,” “Over My Head,” and “Sugar Daddy,” and of abiding tenderness in “Warm Ways.” What’s more, it was now a woman’s band, with Christine and Nicks contrasting brilliandy. Nicks countered McVie’s earthiness with an ethereal, otherworldly quality in her writing epitomized by her self-branding vehicle, “Rhiannon,” and the timeless life metaphor of “Landslide,” still so apt today. Buckingham’s shimmering pop songs, including “World Turning,” cowritten with McVie, fit perfectly.

What we hear here is the magic of discovery. This band hadn’t even played together live when they began work on these tracks with producer Keith Olsen, and they were all finding something new about themselves. Perhaps one can’t attribute spirit or emotion to the technical job of recording sound, but I believe that Olsen’s original analog vision for this music can’t be improved on by a digital remastering. The 180gm vinyl of this new set is heavier than the original LP, and lovingly mastered by Dan Hersch in what might be called a modernization. Fleetwood’s drums are now closer to the front of the mix, but something unexplainable is missing from the sense of how it all hangs together. Instead of the music surrounding Buckingham’s voice, now it shoots past. Playing the new LP, I kept wanting to turn the volume up, but that only further diluted the song’s emotional core. If you want an LP of Fleetwood Mac, get an original pressing.

The real pay dirt is in the three CDs. The remastering, though inferior to the original CD, sounds appropriately bright, and fuller than the previous digital transfers in 1984 and 2004. Disc 1 also includes mixes of the singles “Over My Head,” “Rhiannon,” “Say You Love Me,” and “Blue Letter.” On Disc 2 we hear ideas being worked out in early takes, as well as live tracks from a Warner Bros, soundstage, where “Over My Head,” Rhiannon,” and “World Turning” hint at the concert staples they would become.

On disc 3, Fleetwood Mac morphs before live audiences into the band we still recognize today. The foundation jam tracks “Oh Well” and “The Green Manalishi (With the Two Pronged Crown),” from the Mac’s Peter Green era, still strut their stomp but are clearly not where this group is headed. The beautiful, hypnotic “Station Man,” a relic from the wonderful Kiln House, does manage to fit within the contours of the New Mac, and the expanded set list, which includes the soulful “Spare Me a Little,” emphasizes even more how much the new lineup has begun to orbit Christine McVie. Disc 4 is a DVD with a 5.1-channel surroundsound mix of the original album and two-channel, 24-bit/96kHz mixes of the four singles from disc 1. The music is also available as digital downloads and from streaming services.

Say you love me to my face

I need it more than your embrace

Just say you want me, that’s all it takes

Heart’s getting torn from your mistakes.”

—Christine McVie from “Say You Love Me”

John Swenson / Stereophile / April 2018